United States President Donald Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation to the shooting down of an American spy drone but abruptly pulled back from launching them on Thursday night, The New York Times reported.
Senior administration officials who were involved in or briefed about the deliberations said the president had approved attacks on Iranian targets like radar and missile batteries. A senior administration official said the operation was under way in its early stages when it was called off. The official said planes and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired.
The strike was planned to take place just before dawn on Friday in Iran to minimise risk to the Iranian military and civilians, The New York Times reported. It is not clear if Trump changed his mind or whether his administration pulled back because of strategy or logistics. It was also not clear whether the attacks may still take place.
The White House and the Pentagon declined to comment on the strike and the decision to call it off. The report said no government official asked The New York Times to withhold the article.
The strike was in retaliation against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for shooting down an unmanned surveillance drone after it allegedly violated Iranian airspace, a senior US administration official said. On Thursday, Trump had said “Iran made a very big mistake” in shooting down the drone near the Strait of Hormuz.
The Pentagon claimed that the unmanned aerial vehicle was 34 km from Iran when it was destroyed, and published a map showing its flight map, which indicated that it was outside Iranian waters, AFP reported. It provided photographs showing the coordinates to support its claims.
Iran, however, said it had recovered some parts of the drone in its territorial waters. “We do not seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land and waters,” said Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The minister also provided coordinates to back Iran’s claim.
Zarif’s deputy Abbas Araghchi told Swiss ambassador Markus Leitner, whose country represents American interests in the West Asian country, of the evidence, AFP reported. Araghchi urged US forces to “respect Iran’s aerial and maritime borders and fully abide by international regulations”.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said “there is no justification” for escalating tensions with Iran.
Tensions between the two countries have escalated over the past week after the United States accused Iran of attacking two of its oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13. Iran has repeatedly warned it might block the Hormuz Strait in retaliation and denied its involvement in the attacks.
Last year, Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and reimposed heavy sanctions on the country. Iran responded to the sanctions by threatening to walk away from its obligations under the nuclear deal – which had promised economic relief in exchange for limits to its nuclear development – and return to higher levels of uranium enrichment.